Firefighters spent most of Thursday battling a massive fire at the Penobscot McCrum potato processing facility in Belfast that gutted the building and put nearly 140 people out of work.

The fire was reported around 2:30 a.m. and prompted evacuations, road closures and a shelter-in-place order as crews worked to bring it under control. No injuries were reported.

Officials believe the fire was started by a large deep-frying machine at the facility, which processes a variety of potato products, including fries and wedges.

“It’s a total loss,” said Belfast City Manager Erin Herbig, who said the fire at 28 Pierce St. was still burning at 4 p.m.

Herbig said 138 people are employed by the facility, making it one of the town’s largest employers. The city acted quickly Thursday to utilize funds from its Keep the Faith Fund to provide $100 Hannaford gift cards to employees knowing they may be out of work at least temporarily.

The fund was originally started to provide relief to residents during the COVID-19 pandemic through small business grants and grocery vouchers. “It’s morphing into ‘How we can support the McCrum workforce?'” Herbig said. “These are jobs people have relied on for a long time. Pretty much everyone lives right here in Belfast or our surrounding communities, so it’s something we can do immediately while we figure out what the next steps are.”


Gov. Janet Mills visited the site and met with Herbig and Penobscot McCrum CEO Jay McCrum to understand the city’s needs going forward. The governor pledged to help the city, company and its employees as they recover.

“I am grateful for the swift and courageous work of our first responders who gained control of the blaze and prevented it from becoming far worse,” Mills said in a statement. “Today is a difficult day, especially for the more than 130 employees who work hard here day in and day out, but I am so thankful that no one was hurt, and my administration will do all we can to support this iconic company, its employees, and the community moving forward.

“I have directed my administration, including the Maine Departments of Labor and Economic and Community Development, to assist however we can as we look to recover from this tragic event.”

The Maine Department of Labor’s Rapid Response Team will support Penobscot McCrum and its employees and will provide resources such as unemployment compensation if needed, the administration said.

The department will be onsite at Workforce Solutions/Goodwill Workforce Services at 15 Starrett Drive, Suite F in Belfast next week to provide in-person assistance in addition to offering virtual help.

In-person services will be available Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1-4:30 p.m. Workforce Solutions can be contacted at 207-930-7047. Affected workers also may reach out to the CareerCenter for assistance, at 207-623-7981.


The fire is believed to have been started by one of the facility’s large deep-frying machines, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson Shannon Moss said in an email. She said investigators with the Office of Maine Fire Marshal were interviewing staff Thursday and were expected to return to the scene Friday.

In her email at 2 p.m., Moss said local fire crews were still fighting the blaze and were having difficulty due to the metal siding on the building. The building was in operation at the time the fire started with approximately eight employees on site. The staff was able to evacuate safely and there were no injuries, Moss said.


The Waldo County Emergency Management Agency had advised Belfast residents to shelter in place early Thursday. That order was lifted at 10 a.m. when crews got the fire under control. The Route 1 bridge was temporarily closed but reopened by midmorning. The Belfast Police Department said there were no ammonia or chemical releases reported.

A message left in the general voicemail box of Penobscot McCrum was not immediately returned late Thursday afternoon. Jay McCrum, the company’s CEO, told the Courier-Gazette at the scene that he believes the fire started in the fry room. He received a call from workers who believed they had it under control, but McCrum learned as he drove to the plant that the fire had spread into an exhaust stack.


The McCrum family represents five generations of Maine potato farmers dating to the northern Maine town of Mars Hill in 1886. The family started processing its own potatoes in Belfast in 2004 after purchasing Penobscot Frozen Foods. They also opened a new processing facility in Washburn in June 2020, according to the company website.

In a Facebook message on the company’s page Thursday, Jay McCrum and the McCrum family thanked the Belfast community for its support. “We are very thankful that at this time all employees are safe and were not injured,” the post said. “At this time, we are trying to support our employees as this is a challenging time for all of us.”

Photos and video from the scene show flames engulfing much of the building in the pre-dawn hours. Heavy smoke from the fire forced the evacuation of a nearby high school and the Harbor Hill Center nursing home.

Regional School Unit 71 announced early Thursday that Belfast Area High School students were sent home because of smoke from the fire. After initially announcing a delay for elementary students, schools officials closed all schools for the day because of smoke carried by shifting winds, potential for toxic fumes and the proximity of the bus garage to the fire.

Mutual aid was provided by Belmont, Camden, Northport, Morrill, Liberty, Lincolnville, Searsmont, Searsport and West Frankfort, the city manager said.

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